We planned to camp at Totaranui beach, which is in a remote part of Able Tasman National Park in New Zealand’s South Island. We pulled into Totaranui in the early afternoon. My heart fluttered when I first saw the smooth curve of the golden coast. The water so clear it perfectly reflected the sky. The sand virgin, only our foot prints marred its perfection. I had seen beautiful beaches in New Zealand, but this particular beach took my breath away. I felt as if I had found a paradise lost, a vision so surreal it felt otherworldly.
We camped in the Spring time, so the campground was sparsely populated, with maybe three or four other campers for the entire bay. We found an idyllic spot for our camper van next to an inlet running down from the mountain to the sea. After we set up camp, we decided to explore the rocks around the west side of the bay. We frolicked like children of nature. As we were clambered over the rocks, we discovered the rocks were generously populated with mussels. Someone decided, we can’t remember who, suggested we harvest some mussels and eat them for dinner. In our tribe of four, we had a few foodies and traveled about with great ingredients so we we knew could throw together a decent meal.
So we hiked around the rocks, timidly at first, scared of getting scrapped and cut, and tried to figure out how to harvest mussels. The trick was twisting and turning the mussels and gently pulling towards you. It was fun to have such a hands on experience with our dinner. After we harvested half a of a bucket full, we took them back to our campsite and began to clean them with a small knife by scraping the barnacles and sea life off of the midnight blue shells. This took a lot longer than I expected – after an hour my hands were frozen numb and I wasn’t sure what I was working up more: my appetite or my level of annoyance at the tedious process. Preparing your your food from scratch gives you a new appreciation for your consumption of resources, “take only what you need” has a whole new meaning.
After thoroughly scrubbing the mussels so clean that they gleamed, we steamed them. We transferred them to a chicken stock, white wine, shallot and parsley broth we threw together on a camp stove. For added measure we threw some potatoes in tinfoil and set them to cook on the fire.
The result is almost too difficult to put into words. “Fresh” was redefined for me. The mussels were perfectly tender, slightly sweet and amazingly flavorful. The sea satisfied our palates. The broth was aromatic and paired perfectly with richness of the garlic roasted potatoes. The surrounding of our incredible meal was nature. A restaurant could not replicate the brilliance of the atmosphere that night. The night sky unsullied by pollution and light, blanketed us in its shinning embrace. Birds softly cooed and serenaded us. I felt utterly charmed by the universe. I was full and fulfilled, in mind, body and soul.
Not only was the meal of fresh spring mussels one of the best of my life, the overall experience is something I will never forget. Happiness can truly be found in the simplest things.